For the first time in a long while, the other five members of my household are sleeping in. Even the voices in my head have not yet begun their daily sport of torment. So I’m here in the kitchen where a light breeze is waltzing through, and I am enamored by the broth in my bowl. I hesitate to finish it, because it’s so good, and I want to savor the whole experience. The warmth it brings to my throat and chest. The faint smell of ginger flirting with my senses. The tiny circles of oil dancing hypnotically in the milky whiteness of the broth. The peace and quiet of the house and my mind. The stillness of time. The weightlessness of not being needed. The tranquility of simply existing, breathing.

I guess it’s more than just the broth that I’m enjoying.

Yesterday, I caught a cold. My mother said it was because I “go out.” I wondered, is it because I go out to pull weeds in the garden? That I go out after lunch to drive my toddler to sleep up Kaloko Mauka where the only company we have are the fog and flora? That I go out to run with my toddler on our empty street after breakfast? That I go out and play with my toddler on the driveway and the front yard when we’re done with indoor chores and activities? That I go to the store to pick up groceries, formula, and diapers?

Maybe.

Maybe it’s because of other things.

Maybe it’s because I’m shedding hair like a dog and I have to cover the new shoreline on my forehead with a pink headband before I see people in virtual conferences. Maybe it’s because I wake up throughout the night to feed, change, and soothe my infant. Maybe it’s because I wake up throughout the night to also comfort my toddler who is having a difficult time navigating through all of the unfamiliar and sudden changes happening around him. 

Maybe it’s because my infant starts his day at 4:30 a.m., and my toddler ends his at 8:30 p.m. on good days and 10:00 on other days, and the only “free time” I have is when I shishi or poop in the bathroom. Maybe it’s because I write emails, learn new strategies, build online lessons and activities, and organize and facilitate meetings on my phone or laptop when my children nap, or at 1:00 a.m. when I’m finally up from my involuntary nap. 

Maybe it’s because our household income is reduced to just my salary and I am constantly re-budgeting, with something coming up every day. Maybe it’s because I’m anxious about the potential pay cut. Maybe it’s because I cried for an hour after the DOE announced we won’t be going back to work physically, and then lied to my toddler, saying I have really bad allergies when he asked me why I was crying. Maybe it’s because I miss my students. Maybe it’s because no matter what time I call or how often I call, I can’t get through the other side of the line and find out how some of my students are doing.

Maybe.

Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Nah. It’s because I go out.

Now here I am, staring at broth, quietly laughing at my unmatched chopsticks, and stitching my insides together for when everyone wakes up and the day must go on.

Here I am. Tired. Sick. Worried. Heartbroken.

I hear my infant waking up.

Cue mask in 3, 2, 1.

Jannica Cuaresma

behindthemask mask

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